Having dealt with all the things you are not getting for Christmas this year, it's time to turn our attention to what Santa's elves have really been hammering away at. So from consumer favorites to clever innovations to quirky surprises, here's our selection of the top 10 things you CAN have for Christmas 2012.
A new perspective
The latest in camera technology features prominently on Gizmag's pages and it is an area where the term "game-changer" is easily overused. Several cameras we've seen this year sit comfortably with this description though, and we found ourselves unable to single out just one Christmas gift recommendation for those photography buffs out there. Blackmagic Design's Digital Cine Camera definitely rates a mention with its giant-killing take on video capture (US$2,995).
The Lytro light field camera (US$399) brought something genuinely new to the consumer marketplace this year by giving users the ability to adjust a photo's focus after it's been taken. Actioncams also reached new heights with GoPro announcing the 4K/15 fps Hero3 Black Edition. And not forgetting the much maligned (but most often used) member of the camera fraternity – the standout smartphone camera of 2012 goes to Nokia's 41-megapixel 808 PureView.
Video games consoles always feature highly on Christmas wish lists and 2012 provided some tasty new pieces of hardware that will ensure this year is no different. While it was first launched in December of last year, it wasn’t until 2012 that the PlayStation Vita hit shelves outside Japan and impressed with its gorgeous 5-inch OLED touchscreen. Nintendo hit back by attempting to breathe new life into its struggling 3DS with the release of the 3DS XL (US$199.99) boasting a 4.88-inch 3D display and improved battery life.
This year also (finally) saw Nintendo join the HD gaming club with the release of the Wii U (US$299.99). Having ushered in the motion gaming revolution with the original Wii, Nintendo again went for something different with its successor. While the jury is still out on the Wii U’s 6.2-inch touchscreen-toting GamePad, hopes are high that some ambitious developers (or Ninty itself) will come up with a compelling use of the technology.
While talking gaming, it's worth noting that 2012 also saw both Sony’s and Nintendo’s dedicated handhelds continue to face increasing competition from smartphones and tablets, which have cemented themselves as a viable (and popular) gaming platform. And on the console front, with Sony and Microsoft expected to unveil the next generation PlayStation and Xbox next year, there will be many gamers biding their time – possibly until Christmas 2013.
Ho hum you say, tablets are so 2010, but the landscape has changed considerably during 2012 and the sheer number of these things that will be unwrapped later this month makes this a space we can't ignore. The key trend this year has been the proliferation of tablets in the 7-inch vicinity, most notably the Google/Asus Nexus 7, the 7" Kindle Fire, the Nook HD (all priced at US$199) and of course, market leader Apple's slightly larger foray into this space – the 7.9 inch iPad Mini ($329).
Full-size tablets are of course far from dead in the water – alongside a refreshed iPad ($499), Google/Samsung have taken Apple head on with the Nexus 10 ($399) and Microsoft has thrown in its hat with the Surface RT ($99).
For a full run down of specs and pricing on the leading tablet contenders see our 2012 tablet guide.
A $25 computer
Another significant arrival in 2012 was the Raspberry Pi – a bare bones, low-priced, credit card-sized Linux computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. Designed for gaming, regular computing tasks like word processing and high-definition video playback, the top of the line (and we're still only talking US$35) Model B comes with 512 MB RAM, two USB ports and an Ethernet port. This is a fantastic project that will bring cheap, accessible, programmable computers to a much wider audience … and at that price point there's bound to be a Rasberry Pi or three gracing Christmas stockings this year.
A digital green thumb
An indoor plant makes a great Christmas gift. But if the giftee isn't up to the task of keeping it alive, you could be consigning said plant to a perilous battle for survival. The the ideal accompaniment to such a gift – for those happy to part with an extra €129 (US$168) – could be the Koubachi Wi-Fi Sensor.
The Koubachi acts as a digital sentry for the plant. It uses sensors to determine the level of moisture in the soil, the amount of light reaching the leaves and the temperature in the immediate surroundings. The data is analyzed in the cloud and feedback on your plant's health and guidance on how to care for it are sent to your device of choice.
Self-portraits gained an extra dimension in 2012 with the arrival of the 3D printing photo booth, but if you are going to have yourself scanned, printed in plastic and gift-boxed, why not go the whole 9-yards and make yourself into a superhero action figure. Firebox offers such a service – upload some mug-shots to the company's website, hand over £79.99 (US$127) and your shrunken, 3D printed head will arrive back in the post with a superhero body to sit it atop.
More intrepid and technically minded narcissists could alternatively attempt to create their own using a 3D printer, which you can picked up these days for as little as $500.
A party machine
We've reached the festive season and, as we said when we first spied it back in August, nothing says "let's party" quite like Philips latest take on the boom box – the £300 (US$485) FWP3200D iPod dock. Featuring support for two iDevices at once, an integrated lighting system, basic deejaying tools and 300 W RMS output boostable to 540 W, the message here is clearly "get up and groove ... or else."
A waterless wipeout
Those shopping for fitness fanatics who've already got every flavor of exercise machine that late night television has to offer might just be able to spring a surprise this year with the RipSurfer X. Looking to mimic the upper body and core-strength workout that surfers get chasing tubes, the RipSurfer X consists of a board mounted on a tilting base and an optional set of elasticized resistance cords designed to simulate paddling.
While RipSurfer X is primarily aimed at the fitness studio market where certified instructors can train users in the art of psuedo-surfing, they can also be purchased for private homes for around US$450.
A Self Balancing Unicycle
Bruised knees, grazed palms and teary eyes ... learning to ride a bike is bad enough, but giving the gift of a unicycle seems like a recipe for disaster. Unless, that is, you can raise the US$1,795 for a one-wheeled conveyance of the self-balancing variety. Focus Designs' Self Balancing Unicycle (SBU) uses an array of sensors, gyros and accelerometers to keep you upright at speeds of up to 10 mph (16 km/h) over a range of 12 miles (20 km). It's compact enough to tote on public transport or throw into the trunk of your car ... and no one else on the neighborhood will have one.
A moment's peace
If the season is getting a little too silly and you just can't face the crowds clamoring for a last minute bargain at the mall, it could be time to find a quiet moment alone with the Ostrich Pillow. The concept is simple – insert head and hands, find a surface on which to rest and do your best to shut the world out.
Having been successfully funded via a Kickstarter campaign, the Ostrich Pillow can now be had for £65/€80/US$99. Those looking for a full body escape might find the HUSH armchair pod more to their liking (though you'll have to wait until next year to get your hands on one – first deliveries are expected in May).
And finally ...The task of distilling all of the great gadgetry we've seen throughout the year into a top 10 list is of course an impossible one and there are no doubt items on your radar that we've neglected to mention – so please let us know your pick of 2012's most gift-worthy tech gear using the comments section below.
We would also like to take this opportunity to thank all our readers for supporting us, contributing to the debate and keeping us on our toes throughout the year. Have a fantastic holiday season! We look forward to bringing you more of the latest innovations throughout 2013.
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